Boris Johnson has told France not to worry about Britain’s new defence partnership with the US and Australia, insisting that it did not alter the UK’s “ineradicable” love of its cross-Channel neighbour.
The prime minister’s olive branch came after a senior minister in Emmanuel Macron’s administration branded the UK a “vassal” state of Washington over the Aukus deal.
The pact - announced with virtually no notice to France - sparked fury in Paris because it saw Canberra opt for American nuclear submarines and cancel a 56bn euro deal to buy 12 French diesel-electric subs.
But Mr Johnson today insisted: “Aukus is not in any way meant to be zero sum, it is not meant to be exclusionary, it is not something, I don’t think, that anyone needs to worry about - and particularly not our French friends.”
Defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned the pact as a “stab in the back” and said his country had been “betrayed” by the Aukus trio.
And in an extraordinary step between such close allies, President Macron withdrew ambassadors from Washington and Canberra in retaliation.
But in a blow to UK pride, France’s Europe minister Clement Beaune said similar action was not meted out to Britain because Paris viewed it as very much the junior partner in the new alliance.
“Our British friends explained to us that they were leaving the EU to create ‘global Britain’,” Mr Beaune told France 24 TV.
“As you can see, it is a return to the American fold and accepting a form of vassal status.
“Global Britain seems to be more about [being] a junior partner of the US than working with different allies.”
Mr Johnson attempted to calm troubled waters when he was asked how he responded to the French minister’s characterisation of the UK’s new position in the world.
“We are very, very proud of our relationship with France and it is of huge importance to this country,” he told reporters travelling with him to the United Nations in New York.
“It is a very friendly relationship - an entente cordiale - that goes back a century or more and is absolutely vital for us.”
Mr Johnson said the UK works “shoulder to shoulder” with France in Nato’s mission to the Baltic states, as well as in operations in the west African state of Mali and in joint simulations of nuclear weapons tests.
“British troops and French troops are side by side,” he said. “There are no two sets of armed forces that are more capable of integration together and working side by side.
“This is something that goes very, very deep. Our love of France, our admiration of France is ineradicable.”
Discussing Anglo-French co-operation on nuclear test simulations, Mr Johnson poked fun at France’s love of the Asterix comic-book series.
“We simulate the testing of nuclear explosions together,” he said. “We don’t actually blow anything up.
“It’s called the Teutates - T-E-U-T-A-T-E-S - which I think is the Gaulish god of thunder, from my studies of Asterix. But I might be wrong about that - you might want to look that up.”
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